Diego Simeone has conceded that his Atlético Madrid side face a massive challenge going up against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, but has issued a rallying cry that his charges can prosper by being smarter and working harder. Under Simeone’s leadership, Atlético Madrid have become Europe’s premier underdog side, overcoming a significant financial disadvantage to regularly challenge the elite in Spain and the rest of Europe.
Two years ago they won La Liga and came within two minutes of landing the Champions League title. And as this season reaches its climax, Atlético are behind Barcelona at the top of La Liga on head-to-head record alone, and held off the Catalans in the Champions League to reach the last four.
They now come up against another European giant. Bayern Munich, in their fifth consecutive semifinal, will visit the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday, blessed with arguably the deepest and most versatile squad on the continent. Simeone, though, who has earned a three-match touchline ban in La Liga for an extra ball being thrown onto the pitch from his technical area in Saturday’s win over Malaga, believes Atlético can again triumph against the odds.
“Bayern have many options and players, but in battle the side with the most soldiers doesn’t win, rather the side that uses their soldiers better,” the Argentine said in his pre-match press conference. “We are thinking about the big opportunity we have and only focused on winning.”
For Simeone’s counterpart, Pep Guardiola, the matchup represents his last opportunity to make a Champions League final as Bayern Munich coach. The former Barcelona boss has seen his side be ousted at the semifinal stage in his first two seasons in Bavaria. And, with his departure to Manchester City this summer already confirmed, many believe that Guardiola’s time at Bayern Munich will not be an unqualified success unless they lift the Champions League title, as they did in the season before he arrived, under Jupp Heynckes.
Guardiola accepts those lofty expectations, yet also defends the work he has sone in his three years, which includes likely wrapping up a third consecutive Bundesliga title this season.
“Three semis in three years is not something that every team does,” Guardiola said, reports The Guardian. “I have read in Munich that without winning the Champions League, the work would not be complete. I must accept that. But I am very fortunate to have lived and worked three years in Germany. I am a better coach, a better guy, more relaxed, I have enjoyed it a lot.
“We will try and reach the final, as we did against Madrid and Barcelona, and now this year against Atlético. We are very happy to be here, we know that all semi-finalists are difficult.”
Guardiola has been boosted by the return to fitness of center-back Jerome Boateng, although it remains in doubt whether he will be thrust immediately back into the starting lineup, having not played since January. Bayern’s only confirmed absentees are winger Arjen Robben and defender Holger Badstuber.
For Atlético, influential center-back Diego Godin is missing after suffering a hamstring strain in last week’s win over Athletic Bilbao. Fellow Uruguayan defender José María Giménez is back and available, however.
D: Juanfran, Giménez, Lucas, Filipe Luis
M: Saul, Gabi, Fernández, Koke
F: Torres, Griezmann
D: Lahm, Kimmich, Martínez, Alaba
Costa, Vidal, Müller, Ribery
Betting odds (via Oddschecker)
Atlético Madrid win: 23/10
Bayern Munich win: 6/4
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1